Title: Once, When We Were Young (2/2)

Author: Nimue

Rating: PG

Feedback: Yes, please

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, UPN, Fox... Just Borrowing.

Summary: What would have happened had Spike never come back from Africa? Or at least Buffy never knew he did. This is my take on Buffy, having survived to old age, looking back on her youth.

Once, When We Were Young

"Buffy?" Her eyes fluttered open. She felt a cool cloth pressed to her

head and his fingers stroking her face. Somehow, she was lying on the couch in her living room with Spike kneeling beside her. He was wearing blue jeans and a deep purple button down. And he was older now. Still, he was the most handsome man she had ever seen, a little gray around the temples, tiny lines around his eyes and mouth. He looked rugged and distinguished.

He had aged.

"S...Spike?"

"Haven't gone by that name in years, Pet. But if you would like..."

"You... you're old?"

Spike chuckled. "You're no spring chicken yourself, Love. But let me say that age has been kind to you. You're still the most beautiful woman I'd ever hope to see."

She felt herself blush, her hand fluttering to his face. "Am I dead?"

"No, Pet," he answered, as her eyes flew wide.

"Ne...Neither are you!" she gasped, feeling his warm cheek.

"Thereby explaining the aging process."

"Wha...What happened?" Buffy asked, pulling herself upright, her hand

pressing to the back of her head.

"You fainted and I...."

"I don't mean *that*," she commented, annoyance in her voice. "With the... human.. thing."

"Not quite that either, Love," he answered, still kneeling at her feet, his hands on her knees.

"Then what?"

"Mortal. Souled. Pigmented. Still fangy Vampire."

"Do you...?"

"Not for forty-one years," he answered, chuckling. "The human population can breathe a collective sigh of relief."

"You've been this way since..." Buffy stuttered, not able to form a coherent thought or at least force it to come out of her mouth without sounding like a startled child.

"Since right after I left, Pet."

Buffy thought for a moment. "So for forty years, two hundred and twenty

four days, you've been..."

"This."

"Why?"

"Why what, Love?"

"Why didn't you come back?"

Spike rocked back, sitting on the heels of his work boots. "Didn't really think you wanted me around, Pet. Not after..."

Buffy shh'd him with a hand on his cheek. "Please, don't," she pleaded,

tears pooling behind her emerald eyes.

Spike nodded. "It took time, Buffy. But I did come back."

"W..What?" Buffy stuttered again, the thoughts becoming tornadoes ripping apart her mind.

"It took me two years to work up the nerve to come back here. But I had to. I needed to apologize. I needed you to know that I was sorry. So, endlessly, sorry and that I loved..." It was her turn to watch the tears pool behind his eyes.

"But you didn't... I never..."

"Saw me?" Spike asked. "Meant it that way, Love. Well, after the first time I saw you."

"The first time?"

"Was walking down the street near the Magic Box trying to get up the nerve to go and find you. I heard your voice. It excited me. Terrified me. Just wanted to see you first. Then figure out how to talk to you. So I stepped back into an alley and you walked past. With the whelp. And..."

"Emma," Buffy whispered.

"Your daughter?" Spike asked, looking up at her sadly, but somewhat proudly as well. Buffy nodded, the first of many tears drizzling down. "She's a pretty little girl, though I suppose she's a woman now." The tears escaped one by one from Buffy's tired eyes. Instinctively, Spike reached up to brush them off and Buffy did not resist.

"She was a Slayer too. She didn't make it." It rushed from Buffy's lips as soft as a whisper, but Spike could hear the primal roar of rage and sadness behind it.

"I...I'm... Buffy..," he stuttered. "I'm so sorry."

"Me too," she answered quietly, staring down at him, tears falling in a

steady drizzle. "Not supposed to happen like that, you know? She had no reason to be Slayer. Guess the Powers thought that if I had made it as long as I did..."

"That your daughter might as well," Spike continued, his hand still pressed to her cheek. She found herself nuzzling into his palm, searching for comfort. Searching for strength.

"She was a *great* Slayer, Spike. Better. Stronger. Faster. Smarter.

When she turned fifteen, it was like a switch flipped. I was relieved of duty. Good thing because I was getting tired and thirty six is

just...old... for a Slayer."

"Twenty six is old for a Slayer," Spike said. She chuckled through the

tears.

"I still had power, but Giles said it was time to let her go and for me to rest."

"Rupert?"

"He was her Watcher too. Although I did most of the physical training. She was much more... obedient.. than I was," Buffy continued, smiling softly, remembering Emma hunched over books with Giles and curious about everything that could or would happen at any point in past or future history. "But she was so *good*, Spi..."

"It's OK, Buffy."

"What do you... go by.. now?"

"William. William Windsor. Professor of Occult Studies," he said, holding out his hand quite formally and smiling a smile that would melt steel. "Retired, sort of."

"Wh...What?" Buffy stuttered, again wide eyed.

"Got some help putting together papers. Sent myself back through school. Decided that if you could live your life despite it, so could I. Kept thinking if I could only be normal enough..."

"You could come back?" Buffy asked.

"I would deserve you," he answered, quietly. "But even when I thought about it, I couldn't... You had started over. Had yourself a little one. Was surprised, and a little hurt, when Rupert told me you had married the whelp."

Buffy was silent, not sure if she should react first to the fact he had been hurt about her marriage or that he'd talked to Giles. Let's see what's behind door number two, she thought.

"You spoke.. to Giles?" Buffy said, tentatively.

"Off and on until the old boy passed on. I contacted him after I came back that first time. I needed to know. He told me what had happened. That after I had left, your world sort of imploded. Then you... and that you'd had a child and married the whelp. Nibs off to University. Willow's disappearance. Wanted so badly to come back and help you, Pet. But not my place at that point. You'd done what you needed to do, and the last thing you deserved was for me to muck it up."

Buffy was quiet. Unsure. Giles had known the truth about Emma. The truth about how she had felt for Spike. But she didn't know how much he had told him.

"Have to say, I was a bit surprised that Harris married you after the baby. Figured he'd have been jumping at the chance and that would have been it. Didn't imagine he'd a wasted so much..."

"Emma," Buffy said slowly, "Wasn't Xander's daughter."

"But I thought," Spike stuttered. "Rupert said that..."

"That what?" Buffy asked, still staring down into those beautiful blue

eyes.

"That after I left, you and Harris got married. I saw you, Buffy, together. You had a little girl..." Spike rambled, trying to convince Buffy of the story he had believed for the last forty years as if she had not lived it herself.

"That part is true, but you said you were surprised he didn't marry me

first."

"Yes, but.."

"He didn't because I kept hoping that her father would come back. So that I could tell him that I loved him. And that I was sorry," Buffy said, the tears beginning to stream steadily down her cheeks.

Spike's face went blank, processing it all. "Buffy, are you trying.."

"Emma," she said softly, looking at him through wet and tired eyes," was

yours."

It was the simplest concept to understand, but wrapping his mind around the thought was like backing through every wrong turn he had ever made in forty- one years. "Wh...What?"

"The part Giles left out," Buffy said. "Probably because he knew how much I loved you. How hard it was to keep going. How ... horrible I felt that I never told you. And then you were gone. I waited. I hoped, but Dawn. I couldn't make her stay here and couldn't do it alone. So Xander stepped in. He did love me, you know that..." Spike nodded, still in complete shock. "But I never completely loved him. I never completely stopped loving you."

"Buffy..." the words came from his lips almost as if it were a rush of air. A sigh. A silent cry.

"Let me finish," Buffy gasped, trying to steel herself and get it out before she could no longer speak. Spike nodded again in silence. "What we did to each other before you left was so wrong. Both of us. But *none* of it was more wrong than denying the truth. I have spent the *last* forty- one years admitting it to myself. Maybe it's easier to do when you know it's too late. But it hasn't changed anything. I still love you so much that I ache thinking about you. And I regret, every day, that by not just saying it, not just *forgiving* you and letting you forgive me, that you'll never meet your daughter. Funny how just a few words can change everything," she said, now sobbing, anger, hurt, fear in her voice.

A million thoughts swirled in Spike's mind. A million more emotions.

Sympathy. Love. Desire. Hurt. Anger. Fear. Confusion. What had he

done? How could he have just left? Why didn't he ask more questions? Why didn't he Just.Come.Back.? Emma, Buffy's daughter, *his* daughter, might not have died if he had had their backs.

"Pet," he whispered, trying to pull his thoughts together. He climbed onto the couch next to her, wrapping one arm around her trembling form. His slid his fingers under her chin, turning her face to his. "I don't blame you for anything. Any of it. Never did. I forgave you the moment you ever wronged me. And I *Never* stopped loving you."

"I should have found a way to tell you," she sobbed, desperate.

"And I should have found a way back to you," Spike answered. "We can't

change what is past. I cannot say that any of this is easy, Buffy. But

after this long, I didn't expect it would be."

"Why *did* you come back?" Buffy asked, still crying. Her eyes ran straight to her heart. So wounded. Broken.

"Suppose I finally got up the nerve," he answered. " I came back here about once a year or so. Just to check on you. Never let you see me because I didn't want to hurt you. But I came to make sure you were alright."

"For how long?"

"Since that first time. Sometimes I came a few times a year. Particularly after Dawn left."

"So you saw her? You saw Emma?" Buffy said, a tiny bit of hope creeping in her voice.

" I did, Love. She looked just like you."

"Blue eyes," Buffy muttered.

"What?"

"She had blue eyes. And she had your intelligence."

Spike smiled at her softly. "Don't sell yourself short, Love."

"I know my limitations," Buffy said, trying to smile. "So why today? Why are you here?"

"Regularly scheduled visit. Dropped by like I always have. Was parked out of the way and I saw you loading the car. Thought you were leaving, but then I saw the young girl come out and when she left, I saw you crying. It looked like you were... breaking. I just couldn't leave you alone like that anymore."

"Cassie," Buffy breathed. Maybe there was something, some little thing that could help make this right.

"What, Love?" Spike asked, looking at her deep, wide eyes. She still had the eyes of a lost little girl.

"Cassie," Buffy repeated. "That was Cassie. She was leaving for school. She's a senior now. Pepperdine."

"That's wonderful, Pet, but who is Cassie?"

"Emma," Buffy said quietly, "had a daughter."

Again, Spike was struck dumb by another revelation. Another series of

moments that he had missed. "Wh..When?"

"She survived a long time for a Slayer. Longer than anyone but me. Found someone who.. understood... our lives."

"Vampire?" Spike asked.

"No, a human," Buffy answered, thinking the question made perfect sense.

Who better to understand the Slayer than a Vampire? And who better to

understand the Vampire than the Slayer? "A very open minded human. He

actually trained and learned to fight really well. He was good and kind."

"What happened?"

"They were patrolling one night. I wish I could say that something

apocalyptic and completely unexpected happened. But it wasn't like that. A Vampire. One good day..." Buffy answered, staring at her knees. "He killed them both."

"God, Buffy..." Spike gasped. How could he have ever lived that life?

Uttered those words?

"So I killed him myself," Buffy continued quietly. " I had nothing much

left to lose. Xander died just before Emma. Maybe that's why she was so distracted. Willow was already gone. Dawn moved away. All that was left was me... and Cassie. She was fourteen. I was *terrified* that the Powers would call her too, but I guess they gave us a break."

"Not the Slayer?"

"She writes as if she were a muse and sings like an angel, but she fights about as well as Willow. Well, not magic-y Willow."

Spike smiled, touching her hand. "I'd like to meet her," he said,

carefully. "I don't expect you to tell her.."

"She knows," Buffy interrupted, just as carefully. "Emma knew as well.

Emma knew everything. About you being a Vampire. About how...everything... came to be. About how much I loved you and why you left. Cassie, well, she's not a Slayer. She doesn't quite get all of the supernatural stuff. But she knows that Xander loved us very much and took care of us the best he could, but that he was not really her grandfather. And she knows that..."

"That what, Pet?"

"She knows that you are my one true love," Buffy said quietly. "And I am sorry that you didn't."

"Buffy, you know that I..."

" I know how much you loved me," she interrupted.

"How much I *still* love you," he said, turning her pretty face back to his.

"Still?" Buffy asked, her eyes pleading with him to still love her.

"Until the end of time," he answered, caught in her.

Buffy was quiet, her heart breaking and bursting in the same instant. Her hands touched his beautiful face and caught his wet blue eyes in her gaze. "William, I love you. I did then. I do now. Can you please forgive me?"

"I already have. The question always was, can you?"

"I did years ago," she said softly, feeling free. For once. Free of it

all.

Spike leaned forward slightly, wanting, needing, so badly to kiss her. To comfort her. To make things right again if even for a moment. Before he could, her lips pressed softly to his, her hands still on his cheeks. His eyes closed as he felt her once again, coursing through his veins, igniting his heart. Forty odd years later, she could still make his mind, his body, his heart sing. Slowly, she pulled away, once again catching his eyes in hers.

"Will you stay a while?" she asked, finally feeling warm. Safe.

"I'd like that," he answered, softly smiling, his lips still brushing

against hers. "As long as you would like."

"Then you had better send for your things."

The end.